By Seth Gonzales
The Texas Catholic
When Msgr. James Balint celebrated the first Mass for Prince of Peace Catholic Church in a now-defunct Lowe’s movie theater at Preston Park Shopping Center in 1991, he admitted it was a unique opening scene for the newly established Plano parish. Nonetheless, he knew immediately the parish would be just fine.
“For the first three Masses in the theater, we had 1,150 people,” said Msgr. Balint, who served as pastor of Prince of Peace until 2010, guiding the community out of its infancy.
This year, the parish and adjoining Prince of Peace Catholic School celebrate their 25th anniversary with 2,500 families and more than 800 students – some of whom are children of the parish’s founding members.
When they joined the parish in 1991, John and Gail Lehman were newlyweds and expecting their first child, Chelsea. Gail said it only took one Mass to convince them Prince of Peace was the right place.
“Everybody was so warm, welcoming and friendly,” said Gail, who recalled joining the parish shortly after Masses were moved to Plano’s Renner Middle School. “It felt so right, right off the bat. There was so much energy. Everybody was moving in from all different areas and everybody was anxious to start a community.”
Of their five children, three have graduated from Prince of Peace Catholic School, which began six months after the parish was established. Two Lehman children are still students at the school.
“It takes a village to raise a family, and Prince of Peace has been our village,” Gail said.
When he interacts with the school’s founding members, Principal Chad Evans said some of them recall camping out in tents just to ensure a spot in line for the school’s first year of registration. He said they continue sending their children to Prince of Peace because of the school’s dedication to its Catholic identity.
“From what they’re learning about the school today, it pleases them that we’re really focused on being a Catholic school and truly instilling those Catholic values,” Evans said. “We’re not just saying it; we’re really living that out.”
Parishioner Jackie Kelly admits she initially was not very involved in the life of her parish until the passing of her first husband, James, whose funeral in 1995 was one of the first at the parish.
“After that, people really reached out to me,” said Jackie, who even received a surprise house visit from Msgr. Balint expressing his condolences. “I had been to Prince of Peace a number of times but never had any contact with Father Jim, but there he was at my door telling me my parish was there for me. That was absolutely amazing.”
By the time he retired in 2010, Msgr. Balint had led the parish as its pastor for nearly 20 years and was instrumental in overseeing the construction of its current sanctuary and school in 1994. Current pastor Father Tom Cloherty said that sense of community fostered by Msgr. Balint continues today.
“I think that’s one of the hallmarks of this community,” said Father Cloherty, who was taught by Msgr. Balint while a student at Jesuit College Preparatory School. “I’m very grateful not just that the founding parishioners had a dream, but they were able to see that dream become a reality.”